Rebecca Cowen-Hirsch, a senior vice president at Inmarsat, oversees direction and policy functions for the British satellite services provider’s U.S. government business unit.
The nearly three-decade aerospace and defense veteran is also a former member of the Senior Executive Service and served as a program executive officer at the Defense Information Systems Agency before she entered the private sector.
Cowen-Hirsch recently caught up with ExecutiveBiz to discuss the progress of one of Inmarsat’s flagship satellite programs for the U.S. government, the GovCon industry’s role in helping agencies manage spectrum resources and how she applies her experience from DISA at Inmarsat.
ExecutiveBiz: What have been two of your main priorities over the past year?
Rebecca Cowen-Hirsch: The first priority I have been focusing my attention on is the deployment of our Global Xpress system—a global end-to-end commercial wideband constellation to complement Inmarsat’s existing of more than 35 years fleet of L-band satellite services. This has been a very significant endeavor for the company. Global Xpress is an unprecedented system.
Inmarsat-5 is a constellation all operating in commercial and military Ka-band frequencies that is designed specifically for mobility with an affordability framework in its commercial offering. My attention has been on the government side of that. With Inmarsat’s own investment of $1.6 billion, we have built a system with the government users and requirements in mind from security to user profile in operational scenarios as well as range of applications, the satellite ground segment and the user terminal investment.
We launched our first Inmarsat-5 F1 satellite in December 2013. At the beginning of 2014 we were focused on the successful testing, demonstrations to users as well as full deployment of the ground network that supports it. The Inmarsat-5 F1 satellite is now very active over the Indian Ocean region, and we are deploying the rest of our Inmarsat-5 constellation this year.
The second area of priority involves working with the U.S. government to successfully coordinate the spectrum and orbital locations for this new Inmarsat-5 constellation. That has been going well. It is a very lengthy and complicated negotiation and yet our discussions and trusted relationship with the government has made this go very smoothly and successfully.
ExecutiveBiz: Explain the structure of Inmarsat’s U.S. government business within the larger parent company.
Rebecca Cowen-Hirsch: Inmarsat is headquartered in London. It began its instantiation as an inter-governmental organization. When Inmarsat went private and subsequently traded on the public stock exchange in London, the decision was made to maintain its headquarters in the U.K. for centrality, global perspective, and reflecting the trusted relationship between the UK and the U.S.
When we reorganized recently, Inmarsat aligned into a series of vertical business units such that we are structured to meet the needs of the end users as well as effectively support our distribution and manufacturing partners to target specific end markets. Inmarsat has maintained its government relation and trust since its inception, and the U.S. government represents a very significant portion of our business.
As such, the U.S. government business unit is headquartered in Washington and focuses on wholesale operation. Our business model reaches the U.S. government market through value-added resellers and distribution partners on the retail side, who enhance its services with specialized solutions government users need.
In addition to setting Inmarsat’s USG strategy and focus, we provide channel support to our partners, to include Inmarsat’s separate yet wholly-owned entity, Inmarsat Government, which operates behind a proxy wall and focuses exclusively on retail.
ExecutiveBiz: What is the status of the Global Xpress program and what demand the company is seeking to fulfill?
Rebecca Cowen-Hirsch: The Inmarsat Global Xpress program was built on a business case that was undergirded by the strong commercial business of the company, our largest market of maritime, government as well as the other vertical markets we support. The program is going exceptionally well.
The first Global Xpress satellite (Inmarsat-5 F1) — covering Europe, Africa and Asia — was deployed in December 2013. It was fully tested and integrated into the ground network during the first quarter of last year. Global Xpress successfully began commercial services on July 1, 2014 with the U.S. government as the first set of customers. The government feedback on the service has been exceptional.
The second satellite (Inmarsat-5 F2) is scheduled for launch on February 1st covering the Atlantic Ocean Region. Following the launch of the third Global Xpress satellite (Inmarsat-5 F3), which is scheduled for early second quarter of 2015. Inmarsat is planning to commence global commercial Global Xpress services in the second half of the year.
The ground networks are fully operational and waiting for the satellites to come into these regions. The terminal manufacturers are developing, creating and selling their capabilities. So the entire Global Xpress ecosystem surrounding the program is right on track. In terms of business demand in the U.S. government market, we expect this to be one of our growth areas as it is in Inmarsat’s existing L-band business.
Today, the U.S. government represents approximately 20 percent of Inmarsat’s business, and we expect this will be on track going forward, even in light of the very constrained budget environment. Our services are designed to be affordable and fully interoperable with the government satellite communication architecture to provide greater resilience. It is a very unique value proposition that will translate to taking up Global Xpress as years go forward.
ExecutiveBiz: Where do you see industry being able to help the government manage their spectrum and SATCOM resources?
Rebecca Cowen-Hirsch: There are two different sides to this. Regarding SATCOM resources, the commercial industry provides very rich and robust complementary capabilities. Inmarsat, in the SATCOM environment, advocates the increased necessity to integrate military and commercial SATCOM capabilities into a robust architecture. This is done in great and strong partnership with the government and industry. Inmarsat is in the forefront of providing services that support very mission-critical communications all around the world.
Inmarsat has made significant corporate investment to ensure that our capabilities are as similar to and complementary to MilSatCom capability. The government has acknowledged its increased dependence and reliance on this robust industry. It is a good partnership that will continue to be an area of main focus. On the spectrum side, the scenario involves unprecedented coordination between industry and government to protect the government and industry’s use of the spectrum.
As we prepare for the World Radiocommunication Conference in 2015, industry coordinates common position alongside government participants in a number of agenda items to include international treaty negotiations as well as the geostationary-satellite and non-geostationary-satellite orbits. There is certainly a rich dialogue, communication, coordination and negotiation on those topics.
Ultimately industry supports the U.S. government in articulating the U.S. position, protecting the spectrum for satellite use as well as making it available for technology insertion and other agendas that are in the U.S. government objectives. This is an area where we are very strongly coupled.
Inmarsat is continuously introducing new technologies and more efficiencies of the spectrum’s use to allow greater efficiency, operation and utilization of the spectrum by the government and commercial customers. Together with the government, we respect that spectrum is a finite and valuable resource that needs to be used efficiently and managed effectively.
ExecutiveBiz: What experiences do you lean on from your time in government particularly DISA?
Rebecca Cowen-Hirsch: When I was at the U.S. Department of Defense for 27 years, I had the privilege to serve amazing organizations with critical missions. The insight on how the U.S. government and DoD operate – their restrictions, advantages and opportunities allows me to help shape our company’s thinking in terms of translation of requirements and operational scenarios into commercial applications.
Since I came out of the acquisition arena, I am able to inform our company and retail partners on acquisition strategy, governance and policy of the U.S. government so that we can understand their considerations and reflect our capabilities in a manner that will resonate to the government. I often describe the role as chief translator.
My ability to translate the government’s language, requirements, policy, restrictions and guidelines into commercial capability or commercial operating processes from a business stand point has been very beneficial. I came out from the spectrum arena as well. I established the Defense Spectrum Office and led the development of the first ever national and international strategic plans for spectrum.
I understand the challenges and critical missions in the utilization of communication and electronic devices within the government and how that enables coordination with industry. This background allows me to translate that into our coordination processes within Inmarsat as well as to communicate with the government in a language and manner that they understand from their own policy framework.